HC Deb 18 April 1958 vol 586 cc500-6
Mr. F. P. Crowder

I beg to move, in page 2, line 37, to leave out subsection (2).

This Amendment is consequential on the new Clause relating to the extent and provisions as to Northern Ireland.

Major Hicks Beach

I beg to second the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

11.23 a.m.

Mr. F. P. Crowder

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

There is now every prospect that the decision in Chapman and Chapman will no longer hang heavily, as it has done in the past, upon infants, in particular, and other persons suffering from disability. For that I have to thank the co-operation I have received from all quarters in the House.

In such deliberations as we have had upon this Bill, the speeches have been confined, in the main, to lawyers, and I think the House would agree they have been very much the better for that, because they have been practical and to the point. There has been no political friction or seeking of political publicity or paying off of scores whatsoever. Throughout the proceedings on this Bill we have seen the House perhaps at its best, dealing with something which ought to be put right, dealing with it efficiently, practically, sensibly, with the arguments directed to the point at issue throughout.

As I say, for that I have not only to thank my learned Friends on this side of the House, but the advice and co-operation which I have in particular received from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) and his hon. Friends who have also assisted in this matter. We shall now, or very shortly, perhaps, be able to say that the court, whose main and fundamental interest must be able to help the infant in such matters, now for the first time, because of this Bill, will be able to do so.

It was somewhat picturesquely said at one stage that the position which now exists was this, that the child was being throttled by the straps which bound it to the infant's chair. One hopes that very soon now those straps will be released. It is hardly necessary for me to remind the House that, with penal taxation and penal death duties, conditions are very different today from what they were when many trusts were originally written out, possibly with quill pens in dusty Victorian offices some fifty or sixty years ago.

There is perhaps only one unhappy feature about this Bill, and that is that one cannot make it retrospective. Of course, those who have had to suffer as a result of this situation unfortunately cannot through this Bill, unless the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who appears to be somewhat retrospectively minded, should see fit to help, be benefited.

As I say, I should like to thank all concerned who have assisted me in this matter.

11.26 a.m.

Major Hicks Beach

I beg to second the Motion.

I am sure I speak for all hon. Members when I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. F. P. Crowder) upon the way he has presented and conducted the Bill, and upon the practical, quiet, efficient way in which he has carried the Bill through.

As I did on Second Reading, it would probably be proper for me to declare an interest, in that I am a member of a firm which does a considerable amount of trust and Chancery work. Although I fully agreed with the objects of the Bill, I had grave doubts about some of its provisions and wondered whether there were a number of errors. Some of these I sought to deal with by putting down Amendments, and I talked over others with my hon. Friend, and his co-operation and assistance have been most useful, and I now feel that the general public will be extremely grateful to him. This Bill has aroused a very considerable amount of interest in legal circles. I have had a number of letters about it.

I think there has been only one matter about which any difference of opinion has arisen in the House. That was a matter raised in Committee by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and dealt with by my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General. It was the question whether applications under this Bill should be made in open court, as opposed to Chambers, where they are made at the present time.

As a practitioner who has had to advise people at the early stages before learned members of the Bar have been called in, who has had to advise people whether an application would be likely to be successful or not, I found the proposition made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton extremely attractive, the proposal that the applications should be in open court in matters such as this. Very often one has found oneself in difficulty in saying what would be the likelihood of the success of an application, because one could not find on the record what had happened in a similar case.

Therefore, I thought the proposition attractive, but since then I have given the matter very considerable thought, and I have consulted a number of my colleagues who are members of the lower branch, as it is called, of the profession, and I have come to the conclusion, with considerable reluctance, I may say, that I do not think it would have been practical to have implemented any such proposition as that. Great difficulty would undoubtedly have arisen for a number of people when the interests of infants were being considered. Having given the matter my very careful consideration, I think my hon. Friend is quite right in having resisted this proposal, although, as I say, as a practitioner it very much appeals to me.

11.30 a.m.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

I join in the congratulations offered to the hon. Member for Ruislip—Northwood (Mr. F. P. Crowder) upon the way in which he has handled the Bill throughout. For a mere common lawyer to handle Chancery matters with the command and clarity which he has shown is astonishing and enviable to one who himself comes from the Chancery side.

The hon. Member was kind enough to make reference to my hon. Friends and myself. I would make it clear that it is not only members of the profession in this House who have been active about the Bill but also members of the profession outside the House, including, in particular, those with whom I am concerned, the members of the Chancery Bar. It was a member of the Chancery Bar who saw the difficulty which occasioned the Amendment which the hon. Member introduced this morning. After consideration had been given to it by the committee of the Chancery Bar Association, I tabled the Amendment in my name, in the fear that the Government might not adopt the hon. Member's suggestion. I am glad that the Government have adopted the suggestion and made it clear that infants are to be on the same footing as others within the ambit of the Bill.

With regard to publicity, on Second Reading I indicated that I did not consider that one could support a sweeping provision that all cases within the Bill should be heard in open court, but that it certainly was desirable that the general practice, subject to the judges' discretion, should be that the hearing should be in open court. That is my personal view. There is a division of view in the profession about this. It is certainly a matter which should be considered, as I suggested on Second Reading, by such a committee as has so effectively been presided over recently by Lord Justice Jenkins.

On Second Reading the Solicitor-General indicated that the Government would give consideration to the matter. I do not know whether he is in a position to make any statement about it now, but we certainly hope that this important aspect of this type of litigation will be given consideration by the Government with a view to having a proper inquiry into the best course to be adopted in the general interest.

11.33 a.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Harry Hylton-Foster)

I would not think it right to detain the House, but I desired to say at this stage what a pleasure it has been to listen to the fair wind which from all sides of the House has propelled my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip—Northwood (Mr. F. P. Crowder) forward and to observe the skill of his navigation under such propulsion. He has been fortunate, and we are all glad to congratulate him again at this stage.

I also want to thank the members of the Chancery Bar, the hon. and learned Member for Leicester. North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) not excepted, for their help in trying to get the terms of this wholly non-controversial Bill right. The hon. and learned Member talked about the Government accepting an Amendment. This is not a Government Bill, and what he had to do was to apply his persuasion, as he has successfully done, to my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip—Northwood. I do not mind saying that I am very glad to think that he accepts the view that very common lawyers have actually ventured to improve on his own original shot at the wording. I am obliged to all the members of the Chancery Bar who have helped.

On the topic of open court or not open court, I am not in a position to make any kind of statement. I do not think the House would expect me to do so. We have had a full discussion about this. I doubt whether anybody is really suggesting that the Bill is defective because it does not contain some sweeping provision on these lines. The real issue—the Bar is indeed divided about it—is whether the matter with regard to discretion left with the judges should be loaded one way or the other or whether it is just fairly left at their discretion. In these matters what will count is that attention will be given to what has been said in the House by Her Majesty's judges who are concerned with the matter whether any governmental pronouncement about it is made or not. I can only say at this stage that I am not in a position to make one, and I know the House will understand that. I am glad that we are now ready, I hope, to send my hon. Friend's Bill further on its way.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

Surely the Solicitor-General does not suggest that the judges should alter their practice in view of observations made in the House. Clearly, they will not. The only method by which the matter can be dealt with is by the Government taking the initiative and referring the matter to some committee for consideration, and then, in the light of a proper investigation of that kind, the matter could be considered with a view to the general practice of the court being altered.

The Solicitor-General

I do not say that what is said in this House would alter the practice of Her Majesty's judges. It would be a sorry day for the administration of justice when that happened. However, I say that in considering what their practice should be they would be attentive to the kind of considerations which were urged here. I have no doubt about it. It seems right and sensible. That is all that I can say at the moment.

11.36 a.m.

Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)

Although I was unable to take part in the Committee stage of the Bill, perhaps I might be allowed to say a word and particularly to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. F. P. Crowder) on the great success of his endeavour, with which I was very glad to be associated in the early stages.

I think my hon. Friend will remember that it was said at the very beginning of the enterprise that he was being rather bold about it and that certain people were not very optimistic about the result. The Bill is a great example of what can be done by a Private Member's Bill. But for my hon. Friend's determination and persistence in getting the Bill on the stocks originally, it is very doubtful whether anything would have been done, at any rate for some considerable time. I feel it desirable, as a House of Commons matter, to record that we have here a very practical and concrete example which contradicts the statement sometimes made by people, who are really very ignorant about it, that Private Members' Bills do not achieve any useful results. I hope that the Bill will be only one of many such Bills which will have the result of improving the rather difficult and dark corners of the law. I have the greatest possible pleasure in supporting it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.